I just found this treasure at a local used bookstore: The Petroleum Dictionary, by Lalia Phipps Boone.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1950.  

The Last BarrelWell, the heyday of Texas-Oklahoma well drilling is over, although you can still drive by and find those workhorse pumps attempting to get that last drop out of the oil sands below the prairie.  Mature oil fields: but back in the day, the oil patch developed its own Americanized language, which took from the world of cowboys and machinists, and then gave the language back again.  It is a language of common sense, sweat, and romance: people in love with their jobs and the way of life it represented.  And you’d have to be in love with it: it was loud, dangerous, and dirty work, in every sense of the word.

One tradition that I think derives from cowboys is the contempt for farmers: farmer’s oil, for instance, is ‘a worthless black substance resembling oil that comes from blue shale’ and farmer’s sand, is “the productive sand which allegedly would have been reached if a dry hole had been drilled further.  No doubt those farmers contemplating oil leases would have preferred those Texas oilmen to drill all the way to China.  Heck, I think today that all of the U.S. would be inclined to agree with the farmers, given that 20/20 hindsight. 

Miss Rita of BeaumontGusherMs. Lalia even mentions one pimp and two madams in her book: the gentleman is named Ben Hogan of Pennsylvania, the “Wickedest Man in the World”; the ladies, “French Kate” (of course, French) but also “Lizzie Toppling”.  So you can just imagine what she left out–in particular, the madams of Texas and Oklahoma.  I wonder who the wickedest man in Texas was?

However, you can find other sources:  for instance, this deathless oil painting decorated the Dixie Hotel in Beaumont–an establishment run by Miss Rita of Beaumont, as a matter of fact.  The painting is by Aaron Arion, and combines the 1880’s with a small nod to the flatness and vistas of Depression era muralists such as Tom Lea and Thomas Hart Benton: Spindletop Viewing Her Gusher

We don’t allow this kind of thing these days: gushers, I mean.  Once the sign of success, we have now decided that it Wastes the Product.  We don’t allow human trafficking either, but somehow that’s been harder to change with advanced technology.

Here are some excerpts from the Foreword:

To spud in, which originally meant to indicate initial drilling operations, has undergone extension to designate the beginning of any activity.  If one is starting a meal, a job, a game, or a drink, he is spudding in.

Now you also have to think that this term was a joke about planting potatoes at one point.  Sort of a way to contrast the Drill and the Shovel in the scale of human enterprise.

The nouns roustabout and bird dog have also undergone generalization.  Originally roustabout was the name applied to the laborer who assisted in the loading and unloading of river craft in the United States.  In the oil field the term is applied to several different kinds of workers.  . . .   In drilling, he may be either an unskilled laborer or a skilled one.   . . .   Needless to say, he aspires to be a tool dresser or a roughneck.  The activity of any roustabout is roustabouting.

A bird dog is a field geologist: the person who can smell out the oil and point those roughnecks in the right direction.  Nowadays, we use technology. 

What I’d love to hear, from others: what’s the slang in other languages and other states?

Fiction about the American Oil Patch:
♦ Honor at Daybreak a Western by Elmer Kelton, about Central Texas, the spudding of wells, the fights, and the human trafficking during the not-so-great Depression
♦ Mean Spirit, by Linda Hogan, about oil, fraud, and the Osage tribe in Oklahoma, set in the Harding Years of the U.S.

Photo: columbia.edu; texasescapes.com

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